By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
Looking like an '80s rock band are (clockwise from left): Mohawked Alexis Davis, Jeff Gentile, Ricardo Arrizon, Leah Rodriguez, Salvador Huitzilopochtli and Alain Valois. Missing from the photo is John Nagel.
Teachers at Bohannon Middle School in San Lorenzo have baldly gone where few have dared to go. They shaved their heads and lopped off their locks, honoring a promise to students who raised a record amount of money for the annual Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Pennies for Patients fundraiser.
Six San Lorenzo Education Association members took the pledge. By the time it was all over there were four shaved heads (including one in the shape of a target), one Mohawk, long tresses lopped super short, and a male teacher’s pony tail cut off. One teacher even shaved his arms.
It began with two teachers, John Nagel and Alain Valois, promising to shave their heads if students could come up with $1,000. Then other staffers got into the act, promising to go bald or near bald if students raised additional money — at the rate of an extra shorn teacher per every $1,000 raised. Pupils at the Title I school rose to the challenge, enthusiastically stuffing money into boxes inside their classrooms. In all, the school’s 972 students collected more than $6,000, more than tripling last year’s donation.
The school has been a longtime participant in the fundraiser, but the event took on a special meaning after one of the school’s students was diagnosed with lymphoma. The student came in and talked to fellow students about what it’s like to have the disease, and teachers decided it was time to up the ante in the battle against cancer.
California schools raise an average of about $1,000 each for Pennies for Patients. Since the program was founded 15 years ago, students have raised nearly $150 million nationwide, with 24,000 schools participating. Pennies for Patients funds research to cure leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma, and helps improve the lives of those fighting blood-borne cancers.
“I have to give it up to the kids,” says Leah Rodriguez, who cut 14 inches of her hair and donated it to a cancer charity that makes wigs for those undergoing chemotherapy. “The students really did a great job.”
Rodriguez said she decided to participate after her father was recently diagnosed with cancer. He underwent surgery and has begun chemotherapy. Hair, she says, is not really such a big deal after all.
“Whatever we did is small compared to what those kids did,” adds Salvador Huitzilopochtli, whose braid was chopped off by wife Ari, a hairdresser who came to the school for the purpose of shaving and clipping staff.
“I feel very hip,” says Alexis Davis of her new do — a Mohawk. “It’s much more reflective of my personality. And my grandmother likes it, too.”
In addition to being frontrunner for the prize of Most Spirited School in the district, the group was treated to dinner and a live performance of Grease in San Francisco by local radio station K101. They have also been written up in the local newspaper.
“We’ve had our 15 minutes of fame and are having so much fun,” says Davis of the experience.
The students are savoring the moment, too. Valois says his class decided at the last minute to have the back of his head shaved into the shape of a target. Then, also at students’ request, his arms were shaved.
“Next year we’ll have to take it to a new level,” he says. “Maybe we can try waxing.”